The 2-1 Click: A Southwest Side Story

Things are quiet around the basketball hoops in Southwest Minneapolis's Pershing Park, perhaps a little too quiet. Not long ago, the court bustled with rowdy teen-age energy: kids shooting ball, smoking cigarettes--perhaps a joint--and jawing and cussing about school, girls, drugs, music, friends, whatever.

Now a man who lives near the park watches the empty court from his easy chair, through thick windows, with a pair of binoculars. The kids, he says, were troublemakers. "The cops have done a great job around here. I only had to call into 911 once this year," he says. "It's back to being a park again."

"Those kids" are better known in the area as the 2-1 Click. A loosely organized group of 13- to 19-year-olds, most of whom live and attend school in Southwest Minneapolis's Fulton neighborhood, the group started as kind of a joke, kind of an informal club. Its founders came up with the name a few years ago after watching Blood In, Blood Out, a critically acclaimed film about Chicano gangs. "We just said '2-1' and it stuck," says one 17-year-old member.

Under criteria set by a Minnesota statute, the MPD has officially defined the 2-1 Click as a "criminal gang." Still, the attention 2-1 has garnered seems out of proportion to even the worst suspicions harbored by the neighborhood's adults. Stories about the "white gang" have appeared in the community press, and even ABC's Primetime Live already filmed a segment in the area to air in the fall.

Among neighbors, a kind of paranoia has gripped both sides. Parents are afraid of police and alarmed that the press might depict them as unfit; their neighbors fear the 2-1 Click and all the connotations that go with the label of "criminal gang." The group itself seems to have separated into two tiers: an older, original crowd that seems to think the whole thing is silly, and a younger crowd that keeps 2-1 going, if only to impress the older kids. If anything, the 2-1 Click seems just that--a high school clique, its initiations little more than freshman hazings.

The kids, most of whom are white, dress in standard hip-hop issue--baggy pants, gold chains, basketball jerseys, cockeyed baseball caps--and they know the basics of Ebonics; both qualities stick out in the largely white, upper-middle-class neighborhood, which lies between France and Penn avenues and 47th and 54th streets. They talk big about cars and engines, even though many are barely old enough to drive. With teen-age braggadocio, some talk about drinking, smoking blunts, and sometimes pilfering from the local Amoco and Holiday stations. Area businesses and neighbors have endured 2-1 tagging and graffiti on their buildings and garages, and the boys loiter on the streets and parking lots.

A few residents are terrified of the tough-looking teens. The man living near the park claims the boys egged his house, broke two expensive windows, ripped up his fence, urinated on his trees, and "dry-humped" their girlfriends in his yard. Ward 13 City Council member Steve Minn, the MPD, and certain Fulton residents also contend they're dangerous criminals, or at least heading in that direction. The police have investigated members of the group for assault, auto theft, extortion, home invasion, robbery, vandalism, and terroristic threats.

The tension came to a head last month when a supposed 2-1 member reportedly got into a fight with a kid from Washburn High School. Police claim the clique member broke the other boy's jaw with a baseball bat in a gang-related fight; the kids in the clique say the 2-1 member just used his fists in what was a regular old brawl.

"On my turf, if this is going to happen, you bet I'm going to be aggressive about it," Minn says. "I'm going to keep my neighbors informed of what's going on and I'm going to be supportive of the police. The whole notion of a safe community is not based on good will, it's based on hard work."

Minn brought in extra police and helped to establish a "zero-tolerance zone"--that is, an area in which police are encouraged to watch any kid thought to be affiliated in any way with 2-1 and ticket them for even the smallest offenses, such as littering, smoking, jaywalking, and curfew violations. Also with Minn's help and endorsement, the MPD's Community Crime Prevention/SAFE sent a letter to the parents of the kids in the clique, which Minn acknowledges was "a little bit alarmist, but I think the message was strong." The letter said the MPD was "pursuing the gang" and would slap suspected members with "enhanced penalties," such as adult and mandatory sentences. The letter peaked with a dire paragraph on a possible future for Fulton:

"Affiliation with a group like this is very dangerous both to the individuals and their neighborhood. Gangs can profit from the illegal sale of narcotics and weapons. Intense gang rivalry has produced serious injury and death from such dangerous activities as gang fighting and drive-by shootings. Rival gang members target one another continually. This targeting not only occurs on the street but can and has occurred in the residence of the targeted gang member. Drive-by shootings and fire bombings are common tactics." The letter concluded with an invitation to meet with police for "assistance in convincing your child not to associate with this criminal gang."

Parents were frightened all right, but not in the way Minn might have hoped. The police's list of 2-1 members, many say, includes kids who aren't a part of the group. And they say the zero-tolerance policy is a green light for police harassment, the subject of a recent neighborhood meeting. Parents complained that some officers overstep their bounds, taunting and calling kids names, and frisking them and pulling their cars over without probable cause. In a Southwest Journal article, MPD Inspector Brad Johnson said the officers were simply responding to complaints. Minn says the parents are "in denial as to whether their little darlings are involved in this sort of activity" and that the kids' stories of harassment are "bullshit."

"Kids watch TV and know that there is a cloud over Minneapolis cops' heads--that these are all Cro-Magnon bullies," he says. "There isn't an officer in my district that I don't have 100 percent confidence in."

But Sue Donohue, a writer and former therapist who's worked with juvenile delinquents, says the situation has been blown out of proportion. She's lived in the area and known many of the kids since kindergarten, and has been working to organize the parents, many of whom feel ostracized in the recent furor. "Basically, these are good kids," she says. "There's always been cliques. Kids get in trouble, they do dumb stuff--it's a rite of passage, and it pisses a lot of people off. These parents are so angry with the lack of support in the community, and I think the majority of them are trying to do something."

Donohue believes some of the stories of police harassment: When one boy was brought home after curfew, she says, his neighbor heard the police jeering as they dropped him off: "What is your dad, a drunk, you little fuck?" She's also heard of an officer allegedly holding a gun to the head of a boy being searched for marijuana. One parent claims an officer promised to nail her son for something when he turned 18, and fears the officer will plant something if necessary. Another says cops once hassled her son while he mowed the lawn.

"I saw the Southwest Journal article where police said they didn't harass the kids until 911 was called and (then) they go over to the site. That's a blatant lie," Donohue says. "I talked to police officers before I was involved that said they were doing this." Parents haven't filed complaints because they fear some officers will retaliate against their kids, she adds.

For the police, Inspector Johnson says he's only heard of one complaint, and he's tired of the "generalities" about "gestapo police."

"The whole idea behind this was not going after the kids for the sake of going after the kids," he says. "The concern was for the kids. We wanted to stop the behavior before it escalated."

But MPD's zero-tolerance policy probably hasn't helped in developing any sort of communicative atmosphere. As a squad car rolled by Pershing Park on a recent steamy afternoon, kids stopped playing and either looked down or glared at the car; the cops in the car glared back.

Despite their disagreements on policy and procedure, parents and police share a common fear: that a real gang will come to the area, and the kids--either because they're fascinated with gang culture or afraid of the police, or both--will join its ranks. Another circulating rumor says one boy is already associating with such a gang.

Donohue says its time to start talking. "As a community, these are our kids," she says. "It's our job as community members to come together and not only protect them, but turn things around for them."

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